Justin Herbert is going to have to wait until next season to try to get his first win against Patrick Mahomes. That’s because Mahomes, after leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the best record in the NFL this season and the playoff top-seed in the AFC, played sideline warmer in his team’s’ final game of the regular season against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mahomes and the Chiefs went 14-1 in the Chiefs’ first 15 games of the season, so head coach Andy Reid decided to have his team play mop-up duty with his backups taking on a starring role in the team’s last game of the regular season. Anthony Lynn and the Chargers could not afford such luxury. They wanted to ride out the last game clinging to something positive heading into the offseason.
“I think that the way everyone battled back and fought together, I think was huge,” Herbert said in a postgame press conference. “We lost a couple of close games that we could have been, we could have had, but guys didn’t quit on each other. That team, that locker room, they took care of business. We got after it these past four weeks, and I’m really proud to be part of that locker room.”
Other than self-pride, the Chargers didn’t have much to play for. That’s because the Chargers will get no invite into the postseason thanks to their third-place finish in the AFC West. The Chargers (7-9) rode into Arrowhead Stadium riding a three-game winning streak. They made it four in a row after defeating the Mahomes-less Chiefs, 38-21, in the season finale for both teams.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s already over,” Lynn said. “It seems like it just started. The season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but it was good to see these young men finished what we already started and finish it out the right way. Our goal was to go 4-0 this last quarter of the season, and that’s what we did. So, I take my hat off to them. They’ve very resilient. There’s a lot of character in that locker room. To go 4-0 after that New England game and the way we played that game, and the way we got be that game, I tell you it says a lot about those young men.”
This game was much about being an anti-climatic ending for the two teams. The Chargers played for respectability. The Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champs, just wanted to get through the game with little or no impactful injury to one of their key players. With Mahomes and plenty of other Kansas City starters regulated to bench-watch duties, Herbert looked to put an emphatic lock on his stellar rookie season.
However, it is a season quite unlike any other. Not only did Herbert and the Chargers as well as the rest of the NFL work on the 2020 NFL season, but these parties also had to do it in the midst of a global pandemic and a social justice movement centered on change.
“To be honest, I don’t think really anyone expected the season to go like this with Coronavirus and us doing our best [with] online meetings, it’s been a weird year. It’s been tough. We would have loved to have won some of those games that we lost, but like I mentioned earlier, I’m really proud of the way the guys battled back. And I think that’s what I’ll remember most from this year.”
He did that and more. The hands-on NFL Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Herbert finished the season as strong as he started it. And just like the way things have been rolling for Herbert, the Chargers quarterback etched his name in the league record books in several categories.
Herbert now owns the NFL rookie records for most completions in a season, most touchdown passes and tops all first-season players with the number of games with multiple touchdown passes thrown in a game. After completing 22 of 31 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns in the Chargers’ win, Herbert finished his season with 396 completions and 31 passing touchdowns, both rookie marks.
Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams said Herbert didn’t have time to learn how to step into the role of a leader at a gradual pace. Herbert was forced to learn that on the fly after Tyrod Taylor went down with a chest injury in Week 2.
“It’s been good since the first time that he stepped on the field…Week 2, Kansas City-he wasn’t really focal,” Williams said. “And then as you can see the season go by, as everybody gets to see him play, he got more vocal, started to call plays on his own and making decisions on himself. That was good to see with a young quarterback coming in and not expected to come in and just being vocal, telling people where to go, putting people in the right places, and making plays happen. I’d say the leadership role came pretty early for him.”
With five rushing touchdowns, Herbert surpassed Cam Newton at the No. 1 spot for most total touchdowns by a rookie with 36. And for good measure, Herbert’s 4, 336 yards ranks as No. 2 in NFL annals. Not too bad of a season-long performance by a player taken at the No. 6 slot in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“I think it’s a great experience,” Herbert said. “Experience is the best teacher and you know, I made a lot of mistakes this year. But I’m going to learn from them.”
When the Chargers look back on the 2020 season they are more likely to think about what could have been. The Chargers lost two overtime games. They lost two more contests on the last play of the game. It’s been one heartbreak after another for Lynn and his team. Adding to their frustration, the Chargers lost nine of their 16 games by 10 points or less.
All in all, 14 of those contests ended up being separated by a touchdown and a field goal. One of those games took place back on Sept. 20, 2020, when Mahomes and the Chiefs paid a visit to SoFi Stadium.
Herbert went toe-to-toe with Mahomes, throwing for 311 yards and a touchdown in the Chargers’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Chiefs. In the first start of his NFL career, Herbert came close to handing the Super Bowl MVP his first defeat in a head-to-head matchup. Maybe next season, Herbert will have that opportunity.
Editor’s note: Featured image of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) was taken by photographer Sammy Saludo for News4usonline